Hunt for looters’ assets begins

A SYSTEMATIC hunt and search for assets that may have been acquired by executives from parastatals, public enterprises and local authorities using ill-gotten public funds has begun amid strong indications that President Robert Mugabe’s office has formed a crack team to investigate and seize the assets.

By Faith Zaba/Elias Mambo

In an interview yesterday, Minister of State for Presidential Affairs Didymus Mutasa said Mugabe — who this week threatened to “lock up” corrupt public officials — was seized with the issue of corruption and salary scandals that have rocked parastatals and state enterprises. He said Mugabe has declared zero-tolerance on corruption and was ready to act.

“The President’s Office is busy with the investigations and many people will learn it the hard way once they are caught,” Mutasa said. “A team has been set up because one person cannot handle such investigations as the president wants to make sure that all those found guilty are brought to book.”
He added: “Investigations will cover everywhere because people have a tendency of hiding their properties so the president’s team will unearth all the corrupt activities.”

This came as Mugabe said in an exclusive ZBC interview aired last night his government would “lock up” those found guilty of corruption at parastatals and state enterprises, as well as local authorities.

“And the punishment for those who are proved to have been corrupt, to have been stealing, we lock them up — kutivambonzwa kutijeri rinorwadza sei (so that they experience how tough it is to be in jail),” Mugabe said.

According to senior government officials, the President’s Office, which includes the secret service, has taken a lead in the anti-corruption drive by setting up the team to investigate public officials with the aim of seizing their assets locally and outside the country bought by dirty money. The team has been rummaging local leafy suburbs and South Africa’s upmarket areas, particularly Johannesburg’s exclusive Sandton suburb and coastal areas around Cape Town and Durban, sources said. Cape Town has proved to be a magnet for loaded foreigners who want to buy properties in South Africa.

The probe follows an order by Mugabe to investigators to descend heavily on corrupt parastatal and state enterprise bosses, some of whom are said to have splashed out millions on mansions in Sandton, Cape Town and Durban.

“The hunt is on and we are looking at South Africa and investigations will focus on Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town,” said a senior government official.

Mugabe is demanding decisive action on corruption involving all parastatals, including ZBC, Zesa, Premier Service Medical Aid (Psmas), and Air Zimbabwe, among others. In the ZBC interview, Mugabe seemed to castigate former Psmas CEO Cuthbert Dube who was receiving US$500 000 a month in salary, benefits and allowances, although the medical aid society boss reportedly defended himself saying he did not steal the money.

At the extra-ordinary politburo meeting last Friday, Mugabe, under pressure to prove his government has teeth to bite, is said to have demanded tough action on corrupt officials.

Highly-placed government sources said Mugabe’s office has received detailed information from relevant line ministries on the monetary and non-monetary remunerations of chief executive officers (CEOs) of the parastatals, quasi-state enterprises and local authorities, as the fight against corruption gains more traction.

Following the exposé of “obscene” salaries of senior managers at ZBC and Psmas by the media, Mugabe demanded the immediate release of salary and wage schedules of all executives in parastatals and local authorities amid revelations executives were living celebrity lifestyles while general employees were wallowing in poverty, in some cases going months without pay.

“Government is doing similar investigations to those that led to the arrest of former Finance minister Christopher Kuruneri in 2004,” a source said.

Investigations revealed that Kuruneri, who was arrested but later acquitted after spending more than a year in remand prison for externalisation of foreign currency, bought two luxury homes in Llandudno, Cape Town — a suburb popular with movie stars and wealthy businesspeople.

“We are working closely with the Commissioner-General of Zimra (Gershem Pasi) on this matter,” said a senior official in the President’s Office.

The huge salaries of the CEOs and top management at state institutions has been hitting the headlines after it emerged ZBC boss Happison Muchechetere was earning a basic monthly salary of more than US$27 000 and US$ 40 000 in total including benefits, while workers at ZBC went unpaid for seven months.

Dube earned a shocking basic salary of US$230 000 per month which with perks went as high as US$500 000 per month.

City of Harare executives comprising 18 managers are gobbling up close to US$500 000 in monthly salaries. The salaries for top management ranged from US$37 642 earned by Town Clerk Tendai Mahachi to US$33 413, while middle managers earned between US$12 000 and US$17 000.

Reports this week showed Dennis Magaya, a business strategy consultant who was controversially appointed by Zesa Holdings’ subsidiary Powertel Communications in 2012, is earning a monthly salary of about US$44 000. Magaya is currently pocketing a monthly salary of US$25 176 and a bonus of US$18 610 which translates to an annual amount of US$528 000.

Zesa Holdings’ group CEO Josh Chifamba’s three-year term of office expired at the end of January amid reports there are questions on how a US$35 million facility from a regional development bank was spent. Zesa and the Zimbabwe United Passenger Company have been hit by allegations of irregular tender procedures, including cases bordering on outright manipulation of procurement processes.

Three Air Zimbabwe executives, Grace Pfumbidzayi, Peter Chikumba and Innocent Mavhunga were arrested last week in connection with an insurance scam at the national airline that prejudiced it of more than US$10 million.